Making a Will – When should a will be updated?

Common questions about reviewing and updating a will

How often should I review and update my will?

Ideally, you should review your will every few years, although this does not necessarily mean meeting with your lawyer.

You should at least remind yourself of your will’s contents and decide whether anything has happened which requires a change in your will.

Examples of such events include: changes in your marital status, the purchase of property or investments, and the birth or adoption of children or grandchildren.

How can I change my will?

There are two usual ways to change your will.

  1.  You can write a separate document that only changes a part of your will. This is called a “codicil”. You must sign and witness your codicil in the same way as your will.
    The opening words of the codicil usually refer to the will that it is amending. It will say that certain clauses of the will are revoked or amended and others are substituted. It should say that apart from these changes, you confirm the terms of your original will.
  2. You can make a completely new will. It may be wise to do so if you wish to make major changes, or if you have already made a number of codicils.
    The first clause of a new will usually says: “I revoke all wills and testamentary dispositions of any nature and kind made by me.” The most recent will, properly executed, is the one which will be used following your death.

You should not change your will by marking or crossing out words, as such handwritten changes will not be considered. Instead, make a codicil or a new will.

You must have testamentary capacity at the time you make the changes or the new will or codicil may be challenged in court and may be found to be invalid.

I just got married/separated/divorced – does that void my will?

Entering into marriage or an adult interdependent partnership does not invalidate a will unless the will specifically says so.

However, if you divorce, then your ex-spouse is deemed to have died before you so that any gift under the will is revoked, unless the will states otherwise.

In addition, if your ex-spouse was named as your personal representative, then that appointment is also revoked.

If one of these major life changes occurs, review your will to see if it still meets your needs. If not, consider writing a new will as soon as possible.

My divorce was finalized last week. I have not yet had time to make a new will. Does that mean that, if I die tomorrow, my former partner will still get what I left him or her in my will?

Under the Wills and Succession Act, a divorce that occurred after the Act came into force (February 2012) will revoke a gift to the ex-spouse, unless the court can find an intention that the gift was not meant to be revoked. Generally, it is always a good idea to make a new will after a divorce.

If your divorce was after February 2012 then any gift to your ex-wife is revoked.  However, if your divorce occurred before that date, revocation is not guaranteed.

Last week, I left my adult interdependent partner. I have not yet had time to make a new will. Does that mean that, if I die tomorrow, my ex will still get what I left him or her in my will?

Under the Wills and Succession Act, the end of an adult interdependent relationship that occurred after the Act came into force (February 2012) revokes a gift to the ex-adult interdependent partner, unless the will specifically states otherwise.

Generally, a one-year separation after an Adult Interdependent Partnership ends is required.

Therefore, if the end of the relationship has resulted in a change in your wishes, consider writing a new will as soon as possible.

If I make a new will, does it automatically cancel the old one?

Basically, yes, if you make a completely new will that revokes your previous will. That means the previous will is cancelled.

However, it is possible to simply make a new document that only changes parts of your will. This is known as a codicil.

Making a properly executed codicil does not automatically void all of your previous will, but rather, only certain clauses of that will.

To be certain that you have only one complete will in effect, ensure that each new will includes a phrase that revokes all wills previously made.

Note: If your will is accidentally destroyed, for example, by a fire in which you die, a copy of the will can be used because you did not intend to revoke it.

You should NOT rely on this webpage for legal advice. It provides general information on Alberta law only. October 2015.
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